Greencastle-Antrim busing policy for music students questioned

PAT FRIDGEN

An expected routine piece of business turned into a puzzling discussion for members of the Greencastle-Antrim School District school board Oct. 6. The 2011/2012 transportation bus stop schedules needed approval.

Eric Holtzman asked that bus services for band and choir students be expanded. The groups meet for academic music classes before the regular school day. He also favored bus rides for secondary students who stayed after school to meet with teachers for half-hour tutoring sessions.

In the past, the early morning bus runs hit the regular stops, approximating almost door to door service. That was changed last year as a cost-saving measure. The schedule was adapted to include four regional bus stops, with parents bringing their children to the closest site. As time went on, ridership dropped, so the drivers would stop for students standing near their homes if it was along the route.

This year the schedule was initially just two stops, but it was quickly changed back to the four. The pickup points are in each quadrant of the township, at Cedar Grove Mennonite Church, Church of God, Antrim Brethren in Christ Church, and Kline’s Grocery. Two buses cover the points, with students boarding at 6:05 and 6:15 a.m., similar to times in years past. Education director Bob Crider said he had heard from five to eight people on behalf of a group early on, but no complaints in recent weeks. He understood that up to 40 kids were eligible to ride each day, and some were in both choir and band.

Holtzman said he had been approached by three parents who were speaking for a group.

Adding another bus to the music run was expected to cost $5,000.

"Where will the money come from?" asked Crider.

Howard Ritchey agreed that with significant cuts across the board last year, the district was nearing the point of cutting educational programs. "We have to make these cuts, and now you're asking us to put them back in?"

Holtzman liked the oldest system and did not think the extra cost for transportation was unreasonable.

William Thorne suggested then maybe athletes should also get a ride home after practice.

When contacted by the Echo Pilot, school transportation director Randy Rock shared data on participation. In the 2010-2011 school year, 19 choir students began riding the bus at the start of the year, but by spring only 12 were left. For band, 26 started, and 24 finished the year.  This fall five choir and 10 band students are using the bus regularly.

He explained that typically more students rode at first, but as they earned their drivers licenses, they began transporting themselves, which allowed them to sleep in a little longer. The buses had to be at the high school in time for the drivers to start their traditional secondary student routes at 6:35 a.m.

At the request of administration, Rock is looking at the feasibility of adding more bus stops to the music run and for sports. The information will be presented at the Oct. 20 school board meeting.

The motion to approve the current schedule passed 6-1, with Ritchey, Thorne, Joel Fridgen, Brian Hissong, Melinda Cordell and Kristy Faulkner in favor, Holtzman opposed. Mike Shindle and Paul Politis were absent.